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. Five arguments for God - 3

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2.4. Dawkins’s Response

Now, fortunately, Dawkins does address this version of the cosmological argument. Remarkably, however, he doesn’t dispute either premise of the argument! Instead, he questions the theological significance of the argument’s conclusion. He complains,

Even if we allow the dubious luxury of arbitrarily conjuring up a terminator to an infinite regress and giving it a name, there is absolutely no reason to endow that terminator with any of the properties normally ascribed to God: omnipotence, omniscience, goodness, creativity of design, to say nothing of such human attributes as listening to prayers, forgiving sins and reading innermost thoughts.11

Apart from the opening dig,12 this is an amazingly concessionary statement. Dawkins doesn’t deny that the argument successfully demonstrates the existence of an uncaused, beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless, and unimaginably powerful, personal Creator of the universe. He merely complains that this cause hasn’t been shown to be omnipotent, omniscient, good, creative of design, listening to prayers, forgiving sins, and reading innermost thoughts. So what? The argument doesn’t aspire to prove such things. It would be a bizarre form of atheism—indeed, one not worth the name—that conceded that there exists an uncaused, beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless, and unimaginably powerful, personal Creator of the universe, who may, for all we know, also possess the further properties listed by Dawkins!13

Dawkins does have a bit more to say about the kalam cosmological argument. He asserts, “it is more parsimonious to conjure up, say, a ‘big bang singularity,’ or some other physical concept as yet unknown. Calling it God is at best unhelpful and at worst perniciously misleading.”14 I take it that the objection here is that something else of a purely physical nature can be regarded as the cause of the universe reached in the argument’s conclusion. But as we’ve seen, this objection won’t work. For the initial singularity is just the beginning point of the universe. So our very question is why the singularity came into being. It would be a fundamental misunderstanding to think of the singularity as some sort of super-dense pellet that has been lying dormant from eternity and that blew up a finite time ago. Rather, according the Big Bang theory, the singularity is the point at which physical space and time themselves, along with all matter and energy, began to exist. So there can be no physical cause of any sort of the Big Bang singularity. So what brought the universe into being? The principle of parsimony (or Ockham’s Razor) advises us not to multiply causes beyond necessity; but the principle of explanatory adequacy requires us to posit such causes as are necessary to explain the effect, otherwise we would never seek any causes for anything. We must therefore posit a transcendent cause that is beyond space and time and is therefore non-physical in nature. We needn’t call the personal Creator of the universe “God” if Dawkins finds this unhelpful or misleading; but the point remains that a being such as described above must exist.

3. The Moral Argument Based upon Moral Values and Duties

A number of ethicists such as Robert Adams, William Alston, Mark Linville, Paul Copan, John Hare, Stephen Evans, and others have defended various moral arguments for God.15 In order to understand the version of the moral argument which I’ve defended in my own work, it’s necessary that we grasp a couple of important distinctions.

First, we should distinguish between moral values and duties. Values have to do with whether something is good or bad. Duties have to do with whether something is right or wrong. Now you might think at first that this is a distinction without a difference: “good” and “right” mean the same thing, and the same goes for “bad” and “wrong.” But if you think about it, you can see that this isn’t the case. Duty has to do with moral obligation, what you ought or ought not to do. But obviously you’re not morally obligated to do something just because it would be good for you to do it. For example, it would be good for you to become a doctor, but you’re not morally obligated to become a doctor. After all, it would also be good for you to become a firefighter or a homemaker or a diplomat, but you can’t do them all. So there’s a difference between good/bad and right/wrong. Good/bad has to do with something’s worth, while right/wrong has to do with something’s being obligatory.

Second, there’s the distinction between being objective or subjective. By “objective” I mean “independent of people’s opinions.” By “subjective” I mean “dependent on people’s opinions.” So to say that there are objective moral values is to say that something is good or bad independent of whatever people think about it. Similarly, to say that we have objective moral duties is to say that certain actions are right or wrong for us regardless of what people think about it. So, for example, to say that the Holocaust was objectively wrong is to say that it was wrong even though the Nazis who carried it out thought that it was right, and it would still have been wrong even if the Nazis had won World War II and succeeded in exterminating or brainwashing everybody who disagreed with them so that everyone believed the Holocaust was right.

With those distinctions in mind, here’s a simple moral argument for God’s existence:

    1. If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
    2. Objective moral values and duties do exist.
    3. Therefore, God exists.
3.1. Premises 1 and 2

What makes this argument so compelling is not only that it is logically airtight but also that people generally believe both premises. In a pluralistic age, people are afraid of imposing their values on someone else. So premise 1 seems correct to them. Moral values and duties are not objective realities (that is, valid and binding independent of human opinion) but are merely subjective opinions ingrained into us by biological evolution and social conditioning.

At the same time, however, people do believe deeply that certain moral values and duties such as tolerance, open-mindedness, and love are objectively valid and binding. They think it’s objectively wrong to impose your values on someone else! So they’re deeply committed to premise 2 as well.

3.2. Dawkins’s Response

In fact, Dawkins himself seems to be committed to both premises! With respect to premise 1, Dawkins informs us, “there is at bottom no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pointless indifference. . . . We are machines for propagating DNA . . . . It is every living object’s sole reason for being.”16But although he says that there is no evil, no good, nothing but pointless indifference, the fact is that Dawkins is a stubborn moralist. He says that he was “mortified” to learn that Enron executive Jeff Skilling regards Dawkins’s The Selfish Gene as his favorite book because of its perceived Social Darwinism.17 He characterizes “Darwinian mistakes” like pity for someone unable to pay us back or sexual attraction to an infertile member of the opposite sex as “blessed, precious mistakes” and calls compassion and generosity “noble emotions.”18 He denounces the doctrine of original sin as “morally obnoxious.”19 He vigorously condemns such actions as the harassment and abuse of homosexuals, the religious indoctrination of children, the Incan practice of human sacrifice, and prizing cultural diversity over the interests of Amish children. He even goes so far as to offer his own amended Ten Commandments for guiding moral behavior, all the while marvelously oblivious to the contradiction with his ethical subjectivism!20

In his survey of arguments for God’s existence, Dawkins does touch on a sort of moral argument that he calls the Argument from Degree.21 But it bears little resemblance to the argument presented here. We’re not arguing from degrees of goodness to a greatest good, but from the objective reality of moral values and duties to their foundation in reality. It’s hard to believe that all of Dawkins’s heated moral denunciations and affirmations are really intended to be no more than his subjective opinion, as if to whisper with a wink, “Of course, I don’t think that child abuse and homophobia and religious intolerance are really wrong! Do whatever you want—there’s no moral difference!” But the affirmation of objective values and duties is incompatible with his atheism, for on naturalism we’re just animals, relatively advanced primates, and animals are not moral agents. Affirming both of the premises of the moral argument, Dawkins is thus, on pain of irrationality, committed to the argument’s conclusion, namely, that God exists.

3.3. The Euthyphro Dilemma

Although Dawkins doesn’t raise the following objection, one frequently hears it raised by nonbelievers in response to the moral argument. It’s called the Euthyphro Dilemma, named after a character in one of Plato’s dialogues. It basically goes like this: Is something good because God wills it? Or does God will something because it is good? If you say that something is good because God wills it, then what is good becomes arbitrary. God could have willed that hatred is good, and then we would have been morally obligated to hate one another. That seems crazy. Some moral values, at least, seem to be necessary. But if you say that God wills something because it is good, then what is good or bad is independent of God. In that case, moral values and duties exist independently of God, which contradicts premise 1.

The weakness of the Euthyphro Dilemma is that the dilemma it presents is a false one because there’s a third alternative: namely, God wills something because he is good. God’s own nature is the standard of goodness, and his commandments to us are expressions of his nature. In short, our moral duties are determined by the commands of a just and loving God.

So moral values are not independent of God because God’s own character defines what is good. God is essentially compassionate, fair, kind, impartial, and so on. His nature is the moral standard determining good and bad. His commands necessarily reflect in turn his moral nature. Therefore, they are not arbitrary. The morally good/bad is determined by God’s nature, and the morally right/wrong is determined by his will. God wills something because he is good, and something is right because God wills it.

This view of morality has been eloquently defended in our day by such well-known philosophers as Robert Adams, William Alston, and Philip Quinn. Yet atheists continue to attack the straw men erected by the Euthyphro Dilemma. In the recent Cambridge Companion to Atheism (2007), for example, the article on God and morality, written by a prominent ethicist, presents and criticizes only the view that God arbitrarily made up moral values—a straw man that virtually nobody defends. Atheists have to do better than that if they’re to defeat contemporary moral arguments for God’s existence.